Currently viewing the tag: "Catoctin Cougars"

Sports Talks with Michael Betterridge

Every year, at the beginning of every sports season—fall, winter, and spring—I find that I always have a pre-conceived narrative developed in my head about how the season will turn out before it even starts. And I am certain that the narrative will come to fruition simply because I love my Catoctin Cougars, and that kind of selfless and righteous loyalty and devotion must always be rewarded with success…in a fair world.

I envision a Cougars football team that blows through the opposition to a Cinderella state championship, like in a blizzard in 2009 or Doug Williams holding the championship trophy aloft in his final game in 2019. I dream of another repeat 2022 girls’ basketball team with freshmen Brooke Williams and sophomore Taylor Smith churning through the 1A, this time to win a State 1A championship. I dream of another carnival-like ride from Smithsburg to Bel Air and Deep Creek Lake to Waldorf in 2021, when we put 500 miles on the Cool Oldies 1450 radio wagon to win a state baseball championship against St. Michaels at Regency Furniture Stadium. It’s “poetry in motion” for dreamers like me.

But reality is the constant reminder that the world isn’t fair, and it levels the playing field for everyone.

At the end of the football season, our Catoctin Cougars football team led us down that primrose path to victory on the road in the playoffs, following a tough regular season to Loch Raven and then Patterson Mill. Could this be the year? And, then, Mountain Ridge ended the dream in Frostburg three days before Thanksgiving! There was nothing thankful about that resounding defeat that ended their season.

So, it was on to basketball. As they say, boys will be boys; and so it was with our boys’ basketball team, who play hard, but lose often.

The girls won out to Christmas, six wins in a row! Then, they ran into eventual 4A Maryland State Champion Clarksburg, who handed them their first defeat during the Christmas week tournament at Hood College. If you are going to lose, do it to the state champion of one of the largest schools in Maryland! And, then, 10 wins in a row to face a really good Linganore team for only their second loss of the season. A win at Middletown, and then a loss at Mountain Ridge, and there they were, positioned as the #2 seed in the 1A for a big run to College Park for the second time in three years.

They started the state tournament quarterfinals after six wins in a row against the No. 7 seed, Surrattsville. At 22:17 of the game, our announcers observed that Taylor Smith twisted her ankle. Taylor got up during the injury timeout and walked off the injury. We breathed a sigh of relief. They took her to the bench and checked her out as a safeguard. After the initial shock of the injury subsided, and Taylor relaxed on the bench, the trainer brought Taylor over to the area behind the bleachers to see how she was doing and to examine the injury more closely. We all thought it was an ankle injury, but when we saw the trainer examine Taylor, we realized this was a knee, not an ankle. As we watched, the trainer had Taylor do some deep knee bends and then jump. Taylor’s knee completely gave out on the jump and she sank to the ground in serious pain. And, we knew, this was not good. Sitting immediately to the left of my position at the broadcast table at courtside was Taylor’s softball coach, Jess Valentine. She saw the collapse, and I heard a gasp from Coach Jess in horror. She began to realize that the most valuable player on the 2024 Catoctin girls’ softball team, who had played to within one run of a state championship last year, had just experienced a potentially devastating year-ending knee injury. The narrative had taken a turn that was as far from our dreams as we could ever imagine.  Taylor had torn her ACL. I remember the eerie sound in the gym that night.  You could have heard a pin drop when Taylor collapsed on the floor in pain.  Coach Burdette, Coach Little, and I looked at each other at the broadcast table and our hearts sank. The basketball team lost its quarterback, and the softball team that was destined for a repeat state championship would soon be without its starting pitcher and one of its best hitters before it had even begun. The worst realization for all of us was that as the Lady Cougars destroyed Surrattsville, 55-18, in that pivotal game, they could have easily done it without Taylor, who would not have been injured. But, then, who knew?

The Lady Cougars basketball team lost in the next round to South Carroll, even though the team, without Taylor, played their hearts out. Taylor sat on the bench, along with her crutches, cheering her teammates on at Thomas Johnson High School in the 1A state semifinals.

It was such a devastating loss to our broadcast team, personally, that for the first time in 10 years, we did not go to College Park for the finals, even though the Oakdale girls and the Frederick boys were playing for championships. 

Congratulations to the Frederick boys on a MD 4A basketball State Championship, the lone Frederick County team to bring home a trophy from College Park this year. 

Year after year, we follow every Frederick County team to the state championships. This year, we would have broadcast the Oakdale girls in the 3A and the Frederick boys in the 4A, but we just didn’t have any desire to go there without our Lady Cougars after what happened to Taylor.

I guess, in retrospect, success is hollow without overcoming disappointments, and that’s why we play the games. They tell the stories of real life and not my fairy-tale sports dreams.

Taylor, we love you. Your heart, toughness, athleticism, and competitive spirit represent our hopes that spring eternal. I think I can speak for the entire community when I say that we are all praying for a quick and complete recovery. 

That was why it got so quiet in the gym that night…we were all praying for you!

with Michael Betteridge

This month, we tack on an extra day to the end of the month: February 29. This is called a leap year. We do it every four years. But, since the advent of the atomic clock, which is even more precise than the Gregorian calendar that Western civilization has used for hundreds of years, according to the National Bureau of Standards, we now have “leap seconds.” The new atomic second does not always line up with the Earth’s solar day, so scientists down 270 in Germantown, Maryland, are allowed to add or subtract leap seconds at their discretion.

And you thought technology makes life simpler!

If you are born on February 29, you are a leapling. That doesn’t mean you can jump higher. It just means that even though you may celebrate your birthday every year, you are much younger than the rest of us. This has its pros and cons. Because the Earth revolving on its axis is slowing down, we have to adjust. If you think these calculations are way too precise, just imagine what would happen to our astronauts who are trying to dock to the International Space Station if the scientists have the wrong time measurement in relationship to the Earth’s rotation.

This all started with Julius Caesar, who had an affinity for the Egyptians and decided to adopt their solar calendar in 46BC. They argued about this for 1,706 years.

American colonialists went to bed on September 2 and woke up on September 14. Since there were no agreements on the proper calendar to use for hundreds of years, there were no adjustments made, and by the time they settled the matter in 1752, they were 11 days behind!

National Bureau of Standards scientist James Barnes once said: “It takes time to agree on time.” But, those aren’t the only leaplings around. We have some right here in our own back yard, past and present. Catoctin Lady Cougar Kathy Messner, who graduated in 1998, still holds the all-time Maryland high school State record for the high jump at 5’ 9”—Messner literally jumped over my head! Hannah Stone won a State championship in 2012, with a high jump of 5’6”.

This year’s Catoctin Lady Cougars basketball team has a bunch of leaplings. Sophomore Brooke Williams at 5’10” is ranked 3rd in Frederick County in rebounds, averaging eight per game. Her teammate, Taylor Smith, is averaging 5.9 rebounds per game, and Kelsey Troxell, 5.6 rebounds per game. Talk about leaplings! And if you think our Lady Cougars can leap, how about the boys?

Robert Ruch Jr. is 2nd in the county with 9.3 rebounds per game. Former Cougars Coach Brian Burdette, who is now in the broadcast booth, put it this way when describing Ruch’s play against Brunswick recently: “He plays like a man among boys.” Indeed! Ruch, Matt Offutt, and Logan Williams are the leaders on this team. It all starts with them. Furious Trammel, David Stitely, and Brady Koenig leap past opponents in boys Indoor Track and Field.

Meghan Grey, Becka Zentz, and Ella Burrier qualify as leaplings on the ladies Indoor Track and Field team.  And let’s not forget the best leaplings of all: girls volleyball. You can’t play volleyball if you can’t leap. Just ask Mackenzie Anderson, the Calhoun sisters, Tatiana Owens, Alexandra Potter, Abbey Shaffer or Dugan, Ganjon, Horman, Keller, O’Dea and Trinity Spidle.

Maybe we should change the mascot from the Catoctin Cougars to the Catoctin Leaplings, or should we wait another four years and see?

with Michael Betteridge

Prediction: Christmas Will Come Early This Year

Here in December, many of us are out shopping for Christmas gifts for our loved ones. Flush with the delicious smells of the Thanksgiving kitchen and basking in the glow of tryptophans, we pull out the wrapping paper, ribbons and bows and we start wrapping the special presents first.

For Frederick County football fans, we’ve selected the gift, chosen the paper and now we’re looking for the right ribbon to finish that perfect gift. Heading into the first round of the Maryland State football quarterfinal tournament, the gift has been selected.  We see a historic presence emerge from our region. With only ten high schools in Frederick County, seven of them are in the tournament, now that’s some special wrapping paper. Granted three of those teams are there because of the new 4A/3A and 2A/1A divisions, but it’s still one for the record books.

Our own hometown Catoctin Cougars tie a ribbon around an amazing run through two higher seeded teams on the road in an improbable story of injury, disappointment and last second victory. Their season ended in the quarterfinal in Frostburg, but what a Cinderella story. Fifth in their division, only three wins on the season, they pull off back-to-back stunners. They beat Loch Raven at their house and then they traveled ninety-one miles – all the way over to Patterson Mill – to pull out a last-second-win on a nifty Shaymus Stull quarterback sneak to stun the Huskies. Ask wide receiver Logan Malachowski how it felt to go there in 2021 and beat them on their own baseball field as the underdogs and then to do it again in 2023 wearing a football jersey. Patterson Mill wants nothing to do with the Catoctin Cougars for quite some time. 

The Cougars are certainly in good company with their Frederick County neighbors: Walkersville, Oakdale, Linganore, Frederick, Middletown and Urbana made the playoffs too.  I think we can all say that Frederick County football has arrived as a predominant force in Maryland high school sports. Montgomery County has thirty (30) high schools and five (5) in the playoffs. Prince Georges County has four (4) schools in the playoffs out of twenty-four (24). Baltimore City has thirty-seven (37) high schools with four (4) schools in the playoffs. Our only true rival is Allegany County with three (3) out of three (3) schools in the playoffs, but they are all in the 1A up against Catoctin. No wonder it’s so hard to win a football championship in the 1A for Catoctin and Brunswick.  They have to face those big, corn-fed mountain boys with nothing to do up north but play football all year. The road to Annapolis in the 1A always goes through Western Maryland. Is that incredible? Frederick County, one of the smallest counties in the number of high schools has 7 out of 10 schools playing in a Maryland State football quarterfinal!

What is the most precious Christmas gift you ever received? Can you remember way back to when you bolted down the stairs Christmas morning and began tearing through the wrapping paper and boxes? Then, in the corner of the room leaning next to the tree, you saw it! You felt a lump in your throat. Could it be? Are my dreams and prayers about to come true? You began to tear open the paper exposing the box and YES! there it was. The lettering on the box gave it away. A Sears Silvertone electric guitar with an amplifier built right into the case! I was fourteen years old and I was certain that this was the beginning of my career as a rockstar guitarist. Alongside the case was a brown and black velour turtleneck long sleeved shirt. I still have that picture of myself standing there next to the Christmas tree looking like I was a part of the British Invasion right down to the braces on my teeth, smiling and ready to form my own eighth grade rock band.

Frederick County high school football fans feel about this postseason the same way I felt about my first electric guitar – ecstatic! Because, we are almost guaranteed, after a four-year drought, Frederick County is bringing home a trophy. Last year, we had only one team in the State championship: Oakdale and they lost to the dreaded Damascus Hornets. Linganore lost the championship in 2021. No football in 2020. Catoctin and Middletown won the 1A and 2A in 2019. Four long miserable years with only two teams in State and they both lost.

Here’s why I compare this football season to the most incredible Christmas present you ever received. It’s almost 100% certain that Linganore and Oakdale will meet in the 3A State football championship. Can you imagine what the stands at the Naval Academy will look like filled with Hawks and Lancer fans? Neighbors will look across the field at each other. They will meet at the snack bar. Some will wear black, some will wear red. And if Walkersville can make it past a powerful Huntingtown team, we will have three Frederick County teams vying for two Maryland State championships in the 2A and the 3A just like 2019! Wow, Frederick County football is for real.

Christmas just might come three weeks early this year!

with Michael Betteridge

Comfort Is The Enemy Of Greatness

Our hometown Catoctin Cougars’ fall sports season began on August 9 at 7:00 a.m. at Catoctin High School, when our guys and gals came streaming through the doors of the school, carrying their gym bags, equipment, and hopes and dreams for the fall 2023 high school sports season. Football, soccer, cross country, field hockey, volleyball, and golf are in full swing with everyone returning to practice exactly two weeks before the first day of school on August 23.

One of the biggest changes at Catoctin is the new artificial turf field, installed throughout the month of August. Some athletes like the artificial surface because it is faster, and some prefer natural grass because it is more forgiving. The one undeniable thing is that you can play on the artificial surface no matter what the weather and that is precisely why Frederick County has upgraded the final four high schools in the county that had natural grass fields:  Brunswick, Catoctin, Tuscarora, and Walkersville. Money was allocated by the Frederick County Council in the form of a $10 million Maryland state grant, specifically to upgrade those four schools. And that didn’t sit well with the boosters at Governor Thomas Johnson High School, who raised $200,000 to fund their new turf field in 2021, which took years to raise. Had they waited two years, that money could have been used to benefit the student-athletes because the county and state would have paid for the field. Timing is everything! 

There are those who think Catoctin won the lottery with its new field and others who think turf fields harm the environment, cause more injuries, and cost more in the long run with an 8- to 10-year life cycle. Like it or not, Catoctin football, soccer, and lacrosse will be played on an artificial turf field from now on.

But, new fields are not the only change in the fall sports season. Early in August, the Central Maryland Conference (CMC) announced a complete realignment of all the teams in the CMC. Clear Spring was added. The CMC now has 16 schools in the league and has been broken down into two divisions: a small school division with 1A and 2A schools and a large school division with 3A and 4A schools. The small school division will consist of the Antietam and Gambrill subdivisions, and the large school division will consist of the Potomac and Spires subdivisions. Catoctin has been placed in the small school Antietam division, along with Clear Spring, Boonsboro, and Smithsburg. Catoctin football will not be affected by these changes in the CMC since there is no CMC championship for football.  The football postseason is guided by the Maryland Public School Student Athletic Association (MPSSAA).  For sports other than football, there will now be two CMC championship trophies awarded: one to a small division school and one to a large division school.

Every year at the start of the football season, I like to hang around the Catoctin practice fields, workout areas, and sports classrooms to prepare myself for play-by-play coverage on the radio. I have been doing play-by-play on WTHU here in Frederick County now for 15 years. Just like high school sports, preparation is everything. I also attend the Catoctin football chalk talks and scrimmages, but what I really enjoy is learning from the Catoctin coaches.

Recently, while attending a Catoctin football practice session, Head Football Coach Mike Rich said something to his players that was timeless. I was moved by the words of advice he gave his players. He told them that “comfort is the enemy of greatness.” He is right! Getting up at 5:00 a.m. to make a 7:00 a.m. football practice is uncomfortable. He reminded his players that at that very moment, their classmates were still on vacation and probably in bed asleep. He challenged them with the notion that not everybody belonged in that room. Showing up is easy, but putting in the hard work every day is what will make them Catoctin football players. After Coach Rich was done, I wanted to put on a helmet and pads and suit up to play myself.

Coach Rich, now in his fourth season at Catoctin, is highly motivational. He is building something special on Sabillasville Road, and it’s starting to pay off.  Coach Rich keeps pounding his mantra into players over and over again. He calls it the three B’s: Be consistent! Be relentless! Be accountable! Excellent advice for teenage athletes.

Senior Haydn Matthews and Shamus Stull will share time at quarterback this season, surrounded by a very large offensive line. Haydn has matured from last year. He is big and strong and has a cannon for an arm. Stull is a player to watch this season. He ran with teammate and track star Brody Buffington in the 4×100 relay track team. This kid is a burner! With Matthews’ size, arm, and athleticism and Stull’s speed, defenses will go nuts trying to figure out how to adjust to that QB tandem. Robeson and Watkins are huge on the offensive line, with teammates Randy Hall and Braydon Bagent, this could be one of the best o-lines since 2019. At wide receiver, they have real legitimate speed in Charlie Dougherty and Vince Reaver. One of the biggest surprises last year was Logan Malachowski. Logan is a big, strong target with good instincts and a deep threat to take the ball away in a crowd, which he did several times last year in the end zone. The most amazing thing about Logan is that he has only played football for one year. This is his second year ever playing organized football. Logan was also a big part of the Cougars 2023 baseball team, playing centerfield and pitching in relief. I am really excited about this wide receiver corps!             

Speaking of baseball, somehow coaches convinced Eddy Titchom, who helped Coach Franklin with the baseball team last spring as a manager, to suit up and play football. He is huge! The biggest guy on the team. He will make an immediate impact on this team. And, finally, junior running back Jake Bell looks bigger and stronger than ever and will carry the load in the backfield behind the wall up front with his teammate running back Wayne Ferson, a thunder and lightning tandem.

The defense is anchored by one of the strongest defensive backfields in recent history. Charlie Dougherty will play both ways, but according to coaches, he is one of the best safeties they have seen in a long time. Charlie will call the plays for the defense. Expect big things from Charlie this season, sticking his nose in there and busting up the opponent’s offense and reading the quarterback’s eyes in the backfield. Pound for pound, the defense is special and the time spent in the weight room this year shows. These guys are big, strong, and athletic. Offense is fun, but defense wins games!

This team is on board with Coach Rich’s three B’s, and with a new turf field to add to the excitement, this Cougars football team will consistently and relentlessly pound their opponents all the way into November. 

I predict a very special season for the 2023 Catoctin Cougars football team. On Friday, September 1, the season began at Catoctin High School on their brand new “field of dreams.”  Come on out to the new field and cheer our Catoctin Cougars football team to victory. Catoctin can’t win without its twelfth man. That’s you!

with Michael Betteridge

There Is Something Special Happening on Sabillasville Road

It’s not like Catoctin Baseball Coach Mike Franklin has never been mentioned here on these pages before. Coach Franklin is in his 24th season coaching Catoctin baseball. He was honored here in the Banner as Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coach of the Year in 2017. His teaching peers honored him in 2019 as Frederick County “Teacher of the Year.” He has two state baseball championships in the display case, one in 2013 and another in 2021.

Coach Franklin finished his baseball career as a player at Salisbury State. He began substitute teaching at Frederick High School in the mid-90s, where he met his mentor, Frederick baseball coach Frank Rhodes. Franklin joined Coach Rhodes’ staff as an assistant. His first year coaching, the Cadets made it all the way to the State championship, an experience that would give him an appetite for winning.

There is no way to begin talking about Catoctin Cougars baseball without laying out the very foundation of the program, Coach Franklin. His smile and his attitude are infectious. He elevates his players. One of his former pitchers, Mason Albright, made it all the way from a humble start on the Sabillasville Road practice field to the “Big Leagues,” where he received the largest signing bonus ever for a 12th-round Major League Baseball draft pick with the Los Angeles Angels: $1.25 million dollars in 2021 at age 18.

Good coaching builds for the future and that’s why good coaches seem to enjoy success over and over again. And that is what is unfolding in 2023 for the Catoctin Cougars baseball team. History is repeating itself, going all the way back to 1996.

Coach Franklin’s teams always produce great pitching. Sophomore pitcher Joey McMannis pitched this team to a 2021 state championship, and he will take the mound this season as an experienced senior, with 20-30 Major League teams interested in him and a fastball above 90 mph. McMannis was an integral part of that incredible “Cindarella” story two years ago.  They finished the 2021 regular season as the No. 4 seed in the 1A West and traveled to Clear Spring to face the No. 1 Blazers, whom they defeated.  Then, back on the road again, after winning the regional title at Clear Spring, still an underdog, they make the short trip over the mountain to Smithsburg for another amazing win! But now the short trips were over. They had to pack up the team bus and head all the way across the state to Bel Air to face a powerful Patterson Mill team. Once again, they pulled off the impossible upset.  If that weren’t enough, now they had to come home, regroup, pack and travel 130 miles to McHenry to face Northern Garrett, the No. 1 seed in the 1A. That afternoon when they arrived, the playing field was surrounded by a 20-foot-high chain link fence. Cougars fans who had made the difficult drive had to peer through the chains in the fence to see the game. It was a very uninviting venue for baseball. It was more like a ball field for the county jail. There was a cold, swirling wind blowing off Deep Creek Lake across the playing field, and it felt like March, not June. But, once again, the Cougars pulled off the impossible, crushing Northern 13-5 on a rally off the bat of Joey McMannis, who boomed a two-run shot over the massive fence, deep into left center. On the road again, their last game was equally far, but the excitement and anticipation were different this time. They were so excited and pumped up that the trip seemed like minutes rather than hours as the bus pulled up to the beautiful Regency Stadium in Waldorf, where they captured the 2021 Maryland 1A State baseball title!

All in all, the Cougars pulled off the impossible, with a grueling 500 miles of travel over the course of 10 days, producing five underdog wins to bring the trophy home to Thurmont for the second time in Coach Franklin’s tenure.

One of my favorite side stories involving that championship game began with a phone call from some avid Cougars fans who offered to pay the outrageous $300 live stream fee that the state charges businesses for permission to broadcast the video. WTHU had been providing video throughout the no-fee regular season and these fans were willing to cover the state’s playoff fee, just so they could watch the game from their lawn chairs on a big screen TV in Ocean City. Vacations don’t stop real fans from seeing their favorite team play in the big game. During the game, they posted pictures all over Facebook of the tailgate and game parties and what a blast they had. That game is still on the WTHU YouTube page, with 390 views!

Last year was a very successful year, but unfortunately, the Cougars ran into a familiar face early in the playoffs, the Clear Spring Blazers.  This is how rivalries are formed.  Remember in 2021, Catoctin knocked Clear Spring out of the playoffs early on their own field and went on to win it all. Well, in 2022, Clear Spring returned the favor by knocking Catoctin out of the playoffs in Thurmont. The Blazers went on to Waldorf, just like Catoctin had, and brought the 1A trophy home. Hey, if you are going to lose, it makes it easier when you lose to someone in your division (1A West) who goes on to win it all. Somehow, it takes the sting out of the loss when you lose to the eventual state champion, at least it did for all of us looking for “silver linings.” I am not good at predictions, but here is one I’ll make with confidence: Catoctin will play Clear Spring in the playoffs and the winner will go deep into the playoffs this year.

So, here we are in 2023! This team couldn’t look better! They have arguably one of the deepest pitching rotations in Frederick County, with two ace pitchers in McMannis and Castelow. Speaking of the Castelows, this team features two Castelow brothers who are tough, baseball-savvy kids who have both come back from substantial injuries last year. The brothers, Peyton and Keiten, are 100 percent ready and anxious to get back on the field. They have a great defense and don’t forget their offense. This is the team that invented “Mountain Ball,” also known as “death by a thousand cuts.” 

Of course, coaching, as I mentioned earlier, is also a team strength. This group of assistant coaches is very special. Led by Tyler Ausherman, Will Delawter, Nick Huff, William Warram, and Ken Mcivor, I had a chance to catch up with Coach Delawter recently. Will played for Catoctin and Coach Franklin in 2004. Like Coach Franklin, Will had a passion for teaching, too. After graduating from college, Will Delawter took his first assignment teaching in the Washington County school system, but it was way too far to drive to teach and coach at Catoctin. So, when he landed his dream job at Whittier Elementary in Frederick seven years ago teaching fifth grade, he contacted Coach Franklin and was immediately brought on to the Cougars team. Coach Delawter coaches outfield and hitting, and at games, you’ll see him parked on the first base line. His job as the first base coach is a sort of traffic cop for base runners.

Coach Delawter is married with two boys: seven-year-old Liam, and three-year-old Max, who was born in February 2020 and diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. I asked him what was the secret to his success, wearing four hats in one day: teacher; coaching in two leagues, Little League and High School; and father, and his simple answer was “time management” and the ability to shift gears from one role to the next. When I asked him what challenges he faced raising Max, Will said: “Max is such a joyful young boy and his enthusiasm and energy are infectious. He’s always in the middle of everything, fist bumping and encouraging us and making us smile all the time. He doesn’t challenge us, he makes us better.”

Catoctin has eight home games on the schedule this season. It’s not just baseball. It is fun! From the campy “Curtain Call” medallion given at home plate to the player who hits a home run to the silly stuffed dog in the baseball helmet mascot that goes everywhere with his guys, this team knows how to have fun and win! 

If you really want to see some exciting high school baseball and be a part it, come on over to Catoctin High School to check out this Cougars baseball team! And if you can’t make it to the games, there is always the audiovault archive of the games. Just click on the high school baseball tab.

with Michael Betteridge

“How Do We Measure Success?”

What has been the most successful team in Catoctin Cougars’ history? Was it the 1986 football team, or that amazing 2009 football team, or the 2019 football team winning it all over again a decade later in Coach Doug Williams’ last game? Perhaps, it was the 2013-14 wrestling teams with three-time State champion Charlie Perella? Or, maybe it was the 2006 Lady Cougars basketball team, or what about 2021 or the 2022 Catoctin track team 1A champs threatening to repeat in 2023? How about the State Champion boys baseball team two years ago and their incredible five wins on the road, traveling over 500 miles by bus to win it all in Waldorf. Could one of them be the best ever? Wait a minute!  Did all of those winners come from the smallest school in Frederick County: Catoctin High School?  Amazing!

To find the answer, I browsed the MPSSAA record books, the official gatekeeper of all high school athletics in Maryland, to try and figure out which Cougars team excelled above the rest. I found incredible accomplishments by Catoctin teams, individuals, and their coaches. But, there was one major sport at Catoctin that seemed missing. This sport has one lone visit to the state tournament 42 years ago and no wins beyond the first round of regionals since then. It has one winning year, 2019-20, over the past 17 years. That team is the Catoctin boys basketball team. By record book standards, Catoctin boys basketball has been largely invisible. Although, sometimes the record books don’t reflect the real story.

Let’s back up for a minute and start with a more important question.  What is success anyway? How is it determined? How is it measured?  Over the past 20 years, we have seen a culture shift in youth sports and the way we measure success. It’s no longer about wins and losses, awards and trophies, or record books. It’s no longer about records or individual accomplishments. 

I coached youth football in Fairfield for five years and then turned my whistle in for a Public Address system to become the stadium announcer for all the home games for the Fairfield Knights youth football games for the past two years. And over that period of time, I have been puzzled by a new common theme that is alien to my upbringing: “Everyone is a winner.” For example, at the conclusion of last year’s football season, Fairfield had an awards banquet and everyone got a trophy. It didn’t matter how many games you won or where you placed in the standings. Many of the young athletes received personal awards, too: most improved player, best team spirit, most positive attitude. Everyone was a winner! As a matter of fact, the leadership was so committed to this mindset, they even gave me an award for announcing the games. A nice gift card for dinner at a fancy restaurant. That made up for all the missed dinners with my wife on Saturday evenings last fall.

I have heard both sides of the argument about rewarding athletes.  The old timers like myself don’t believe everyone should get a trophy. We say: “LIFE is about winning and losing.” “You’ll never be a real winner until you’ve tasted the sting of losing.” 

I subscribe to the old mantra of former Redskins football head coach, George Allen: “Every time you lose, you die a little inside.”  But the “new guard” seeks a kinder, gentler approach of empowerment, recognition, and validation. You hear words like “inclusiveness” and “diversity.” Everything is affirming and supportive. My guess is probably both sides are right. But, there is something else that lies just beneath the surface of awards and records. That something else is commitment.

What keeps a young athlete competing when their team isn’t successful by regular standards?  What motivates them on a cold, dreary morning to get out of bed and head to the gym to train when their team has a losing record or got stomped the previous week?  Certainly not that plastic trophy that everybody gets. Why do they keep playing when everything around them comes crashing down on and off the field or court?

We don’t have to go far to answer those questions. This can be accomplished by sharing the example of one Catoctin Cougars boys basketball player: Patrick Morlan. Patrick is in his junior year at Catoctin High School and plays forward for the Cougars boys basketball team. 

Patrick’s dad, Battalion Chief Chris Morlan, died from respiratory failure two days before Christmas in 2021 while Patrick was in his sophomore year. Patrick told me that his dad was sick for about a month. At first, he was sure he would be okay, but then complications from an old firefighting injury set in, and his dad’s condition quickly deteriorated.

Patrick’s basketball career started in third grade. When I asked him who inspired him to play basketball, he immediately said: “My father.”  Patrick’s father coached his youth basketball team from fifth grade to eighth grade, in spite of the fact that his father never played high school basketball. Patrick said that his father treated him just like the other kids but expected more from him on the court and off. Every night, Patrick would lie in bed watching the NBA network and dreaming of being a hero like his father. Patrick was cut from tryouts for JV basketball his freshmen year, but his dad wouldn’t let him quit. His dad became sick right around the time that basketball was gearing up for the 2021-22 season, Patrick’s sophomore year, and Patrick wasn’t sure that he wanted to try out again, but his dad urged him to give it another shot.

Batallion Chief Morlan wasn’t just any regular kind of firefighter.  He was a quiet hero. When Patrick was very young, his dad was severely injured when he fell through a roof rescuing his best friend and ended up in the hospital. Patrick visited his dad in another incident several years later in the hospital when his dad rescued two small children from a burning bedroom and ended up in the hospital with a collapsed lung. Patrick remembered that visit to the hospital well. It’s no wonder that Patrick’s role model, hero, and inspiration was his amazing father.

Patrick was no stranger to visiting his dad in the hospital, but when Chris Morlan was admitted in 2021 with COVID, visitation was not allowed. Patrick had to call his dad on the phone. As Chris’ condition worsened, Patrick would receive texts from his dad, periodically. Then, four days before he passed, Patrick received the last text encouraging him to never give up and pushing him to be all that he can be. Most kids would have given up, but Patrick couldn’t. It wasn’t in his DNA.  Patrick pressed harder and dedicated his life to his father’s memory and legacy. He was a Catoctin Cougars basketball player.

So, circling back to the question of what keeps a student-athlete going and what is the measure of success, Patrick’s dedication to honor his father is the very definition of success. For him, the question was “How could he not keep going?” Patrick summed it up for me in a way I never expected. When I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” His response gave me a lump in my throat. “I want to be just like my dad,” Patrick said. I think Patrick has grown up way beyond anything that we can understand or imagine for a 16-year-old.

Batallion Chief Chris Morlan’s leadership and sacrifice is the answer to my question.

Blair Garrett

Basketball is a game of momentum.

After dominating the majority of the game and a last-minute comeback, Catoctin Boys Hoops steadied the ship to edge out Smithsburg, 67-63, on January 14. The team then kept pace with the region, taking out Clear Spring and Williamsport consecutively.

The Smithsburg win was hard-fought with a down-to-the-wire slugfest between two rivals.

The neck and neck contest saw both teams battling for control throughout much of the first half, with Catoctin holding a 26-23 lead over the Leopards. Head coach Brian Burdette lit a fire under his team to start the third quarter, and the Cougars never looked back.

“Coming off the game against Middletown, I knew we were going to come out a little flat to start,” Burdette said. “We regrouped and started to do the things we wanted to do offensively, and we were able to get clean looks at the basket to heat up and pull away a little bit.”

Rivalries always add a bit of spice to a game. With the home crowd roaring, the Cougars came out with winning energy and intensity in the second half.

Catoctin’s explosive third quarter was led by forward David Parker, whose rebounding prowess in the paint gave problems to Smithsburg throughout the game. Parker’s ability to extend plays let the team’s outside shooters flourish, pushing the Cougar lead to as much as 17. Catoctin held a 47-33 advantage in rebounds on the night.

Nailing three-pointers and scoring off the transition put the Cougars firmly into the driver’s seat. When Catoctin can find the open man and stretch out the defense, they are at their best. “When we move the ball, and we cut to get some open looks at the basket, we’re able to knock them down,” Burdette said.

A buzzer-beater to close out the third quarter saw Catoctin ahead 49-35, but the game was far from over. The contest evolved into a chess match, with both coaches wisely using timeouts to stifle the opposition’s momentum. Smithsburg is a team that has no quit, and momentum can change in the blink of an eye.

After holding a 17-point lead with six minutes left, a Smithsburg timeout gave the team life to rally back, putting the home team on its heels late in the game. With the clock winding down, the Leopards continued to pick up steam with defensive tenacity and quick-strike offense.

Smithsburg guard Morgan Hyman hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, putting the Cougars dangerously close to losing their lead. Catoctin headed to the free-throw line with 4.6 on the clock and a two-point lead, and made no mistake, sinking both and putting the game out of reach.

The Cougars’ close call against Smithsburg came as no surprise to Burdette, who has taken notice of the Leopards’ ability to battle back late in games. “I watched the three other games this season, and they’ve come back,” he said. “They don’t give up, and they’re a scrappy ball club. I knew they were capable of doing that.”

With three wins in a row and another big win under their belt, the Cougars are quickly shaping up for the playoff season. While logging these early wins is ideal, the team attitude of always having something to improve on will carry them far.

“We’ve got to improve taking care of the ball in transition,” Burdette said.

When the team is firing on all cylinders, it is hard to beat. If the team continues to integrate its depth and facilitate the ball, there is no telling how far it can go.

Morgan Hyman (left) and Tommy Fitzpatrick (right) battle for possession.

Blair Garrett

Catoctin High School football has cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs, crushing its opponents with a combined score of 100-12. The team followed up those performances with another offensive explosion, smashing its quarterfinal opponents by 20 points.

The Cougars clashed with the Southern Rams in the first round of the playoffs, scoring touchdowns on each possession throughout the entirety of the battle.

It was a frigid night, but Catoctin came out on fire, exploding for three quick touchdowns in the first frame, a theme that continued throughout the game.

“The kids practice hard,” Head Coach Doug Williams said. “When they do that, we execute.”

The team’s run game dominated Southern, chewing up huge chunks of yardage, left and right. Dynamic running back duo Carson Sickeri and Jacob Baker combined for multiple scores each on the night, pushing Catoctin to a comfortable 41-point lead by halftime.

The Cougar defense was nearly impenetrable, limiting the Rams to just a handful of first downs until the final drive of the game. Solid defense sets up the offense, and the Cougars were dominant on both sides of the ball from start to finish.

“The defense gave us field position,” Williams said. “I don’t know how many first downs they got, but it wasn’t many.”

Any football coach recognizes the importance of having a consistent offensive line. Throughout the season, Catoctin’s offensive line has often been the unsung group of heroes on the team. So far in the playoffs, their contributions have been noticeable, and they have continued to create lanes and suppress pressure, allowing the Cougar offense to flourish. 

“It all starts with the offensive line,” Williams said. “They were doing a good job blocking and executing, and the skill guys followed right behind them.”

Good teams expect more cohesion as their season pushes on, and Catoctin has been playing a complete game for weeks.

The Cougars replicated their almost flawless performance the following week, blowing out Boonsboro High School 47-6 in the second round of the playoffs, and routing Fairmont Heights 41-21 in the quarterfinals.

The team’s six-game winning streak has been built on consistent play on offense and defense, and the Cougars are finding ways to win convincingly each week because of it. That balance has given Coach Williams and company a lot to build upon each practice, and the results have been sensational on the field.

With momentum on their side, the team still has more work to do to reach the state championship once again, a feat it last did in 2010.

Sitting at an 11-1 record, the Cougars have the confidence and the ability to make the push into the final leg of the playoffs, and with the season on the line, each game from here on out, the team is leaving everything out on the field.

With a maximum of two games left in the season, Catoctin faces off against Fort Hill on Friday, November 29, in a semifinal showdown that is sure to be the Cougars’ toughest challenge of the season. You can catch more high school football action following the playoffs that you won’t want to miss.

Editor’s note: The Catoctin Banner, in cooperation with Dave Ammenheuser, wrote this story.     

It has been almost 40 years since John Campbell, Duane Gigeous, Dennis Grandstaff, Larry Martinez, and Mark Williard stood together on the Catoctin High School basketball court. 

They were members of the 1979-80 Catoctin boys’ basketball team that finished with a 14-8 record, which snapped a streak of several losing seasons. A year later, the 1980-81 Cougars posted a school-best 20-3 record and became the only Catoctin boys’ basketball team to advance to the state semifinals at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House. The Cougars lost to Mount Hebron in overtime. 

In January 2020, those five, plus many of their 1979-80 and 1980-81 teammates, coaches, cheerleaders, and statisticians plan to reunite at the school for the first time in almost four decades.

“We grew up in a special place at a special time,” said Williard, who now lives in Irving, Texas. “The community really rallied around us, and I believe that support helped to drive our success. I attended Catoctin’s homecoming football game this year and am glad to see that the strong support remains. I’m really looking forward to getting the gang back together.”

Williard and Dave Ammenheuser, the statistician of the 1979-80 team, are coordinating the January 24-25 reunion.

“It’s been 40 years since we’ve all been together,” said Ammenheuser, now the sports editor of USA TODAY. “For several years, Mark and I have casually talked through social media about putting a reunion together. It’s great that it is going to happen.”

Ammenheuser is working with Catoctin Athletic Director Keith Bruck to make the reunion special. Catoctin hosts Williamsport on January 24. Starting at 5:30 p.m., there will be a reception during the junior varsity game. The 1979-80 and 1980-81 teams will then be introduced at halftime of the varsity game.

On January 25, there will be an alumni game for all former Cougars who played in the 1980s.

“We’re also planning a special outing on Friday night after the game,” said Williard, who is eyeing a post-game reunion/celebration at The Ott House Pub in Emmitsburg.

Williard and Ammenheuser have been busy tracking down former teammates and classmates. Social media has helped with that task. However, they are still attempting to locate two former teammates: Jim Hamilla, who played on the 1979-80 team, and Mark Hall, who played on the 1980-81 team. If anyone knows how to reach them, please reach out to Williard ( or Ammenheuser (

Catoctin scores against Walkersville during the 1979-80 season.

With the exception of Hamilla and Hall and Paul Cisar (1979-80), who has a family event scheduled outside of the country, other teammates are expected to attend. They include Carroll Brown, M.J. Golibart, Ed Graff, Bob Gray, Michael Hill, George Kuhn, Duane Snyder, Mike Valentine, Campbell, Gigeous, Grandstaff, Martinez and Williard. Mike Stitely, a member of the 1980-81 team, died in December 1995. He will be represented by his son, Matt Stitely.

Former head coach Steve Lengkeek, who left Catoctin after the 1980-81 season and moved to Wilmington, Delaware, is looking forward to the reunion. Although he’s stayed in touch with some of his former players, he has not seen all of them in four decades.

“My wife, Carol, and I are really looking forward to seeing many athletes, students, and former staff who filled our lives during our time at Catoctin and left us with an abundance of lifelong memories,” said Lengkeek, who has officiated basketball games in the Wilmington area for 25 years. “It makes us very proud to see that so many have gone on to their own journey to excel and to leave so many positive marks on their own stories and that of others.”

He and Keith Delauter (Catoctin Class of 1976) have volunteered to officiate the alumni game on January 25.

Williard and Ammenheuser encourage former classmates, parents, school staff members, and the community to come out to the event.

Blair Garrett

Catoctin Cougars roar past Frederick in the team’s home opener. The Cougars’ 45-15 tossing of Frederick was in part to an electric offense and a suffocating defense that held the Cadets in check for the majority of the game.

It was all Catoctin early on, as the team opened the floodgates against the Frederick team early and often, punishing turnovers and taking an early lead that the team would not relinquish throughout the rest of the game.

Head Coach Doug Williams attributed the team’s victory to a group of unsung heroes who played a key role in Catoctin’s first home game of the season.

“The offensive line did a pretty good job of blocking,” Williams said. “We had some good running and we mixed in a little passing, but our offensive line was really executing.”

The team stormed out to a commanding 31-7 lead by halftime, looking like a well-oiled machine over the first two quarters. The Cougars pulled off their game plan to keep the Cadets’ quarterback Kisaye Barnes contained, limiting Frederick to just one successful offensive drive without resulting in a turnover or a failed fourth-down conversion.

Barnes and Catoctin quarterback Ryan Orr were both unafraid to let the ball fly, but Orr’s passes were finding Cougar receivers, and the Cougars were finding the end zone. Where Catoctin did run into problems was when Barnes found open space to make a run up the field, which is something Williams and the rest of the coaching staff took note of.

“He’s given us problems every single year,” Williams said. “He can throw the ball, but we were most concerned with his running. Once he gets out into the open, he’s a little bit of trouble, so he was the guy we had to slow down and that’s basically what we did.”

The Cougars had no problem containing the passing game, intercepting Barnes multiple times throughout the game, and that swing of momentum proved to be the backbreaker as Catoctin capitalized and extended its lead. 

Key players in the game included RB/CB Carson Sickeri, who punched the ball into the end zone on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and Ryan Orr, whose consistent decision-making kept Catoctin’s long offensive drives alive.

The Cougars are now 3-0 on the season, but Williams feels there is still plenty more work to be done to get this team firing on all cylinders. “We’ve got a long way to go to improve,” he said. “We’ve got to improve on defense, and we can’t be turning the ball over. We’re not going to win close games doing that.”

Despite some of the ball control issues the Cougars have had, they have out-scored opponents 131-51 this season. There are a few adjustments Catoctin plans to make to keep the momentum and the wins flowing. “I’ve got to do a better job teaching ball security and tightening up our defense and executing the fundamentals,” Williams said.

For the Cougars, the team’s winning is a direct result of the commitment and dedication they put in from training camp until now.

“What I like about our team is our kids are very coachable, and they come to practice ready to work hard every day,” Williams said.

The Cougars are in the midst of a home stand; they were back in action for a home bout against Smithsburg High School on September 27.

The Cougars and Cadets face off at the goal line, primed to punch the ball in for the score.

Catoctin’s Mason Shank picks up huge yardage for his team before slipping out of bounds.

Payne 3Catoctin High School Senior, Payne Harrison, has been tearing up the turf on football fields all over Maryland. After completing his final season with the Catoctin Cougars, he was selected to play in the first annual East West All Star game, along with his team mates Braden Thomson and Noah Dell, hosted by the Baltimore Touchdown Club on December 12, 2015, at Spaulding High School in Severn, Maryland. He then played in the Maryland Crab Bowl at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland on December 19.

According to Catoctin’s Varsity Football Coach, Doug Williams, Payne is only the second CHS football player to be invited to play in the Crab Bowl All-star game. It’s very hard to be invited as only the top players in the state of Maryland are selected.

About Payne, Coach Williams said, “But best of all, he is an outstanding person whom I will miss being around.”

Payne 1Payne is a great student with a 3.69 grade point average, his weighted GPA is 4.19. He loves football and has been playing since age six. He played Catoctin Youth Association (CYA) football, and has played on Catoctin High’s team for four years.

He is an accomplished wrestler for Catoctin as well. He wrestled in the 220 pound heavyweight class as a junior, often wrestling opponents who outweighed him. He qualified to wrestle in the state championship tournament in 2014.

Payne plans to attend a four-year university and study Exercise Science while playing football at the collegiate level.